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Bright spark goes to court for harder homework

dpa German Press Agency
Published: Wednesday October 25, 2006

Sydney- If Australian maths prodigy Terry Tao had been forced to lumber through all 12 years of schooling in his Adelaide hometown, he would never have become a full professor at the University of California by the age of 24. Tao, who had a degree at 17 and a doctorate at 21, was allowed by the local education authority to skip grades and start university early.

Gracia Malaxetxebarria, 12, is not as lucky. She lives near Brisbane, where the state education authority likes to keep very bright kids with their peers rather than let them zoom ahead.

Gracia's mother thought this policy was wrong and challenged it in court. She won.

Malaxetxebarria is now on track to begin the university degree in medicine she covets when she is 14.

Robyn Malaxetxebarria, who has three other children, contested the fairness of keeping Gracia in classes where she was bored. With an intelligence quotient of 147 (the average IQ score is 100) she is easily bored.

Robyn Malaxetxebarria defended her determination to get her daughter fast-tracked.

"This was her need. I am trying to be a bit of an Atticus Finch here to see her human rights are looked after," she said, referring to a fictional character, a lawyer who defends a black man in a court case in Harper Lee's 1960 novel To Kill a Mockingbird.

Tao's parents would approve of a parent's determination to do the right thing.

Billy Tao, who arranged for son Terry to go to school and university at the same time, said: "Some education people think that accelerated education is the way to go with all gifted children. But my concept is that you have to design courses according to people. Don't accelerate beyond what is good for the child."

© 2006 dpa German Press Agency